By Joy Allmond
Mark Miller, vice president of high performance leadership for Chick-fil-A, recently addressed a group of pastors and denominational leaders at LifeWay’s Church Partners Summit.
Based on his decades-long career at the successful franchise, here are five pieces of advice he gave on how to create an environment where existing and emerging leaders can flourish.
1. Have an agreed-upon definition of leadership within your church.
“There is a saying in baseball,” says Miller. “You can’t win the game in the first inning—but you can lose it.”
And this is why, he says, an understanding of leadership—and a commonly understood definition—must be established as early as possible.
“This is where we found ourselves 20 years ago,” he says. “We would have told you we were a leader-intensive organization.”
But the challenge, Miller explains, was that Chick-fil-A organizational leaders thought every time they referenced “leadership” that everyone had the same understanding of what they were talking about.
“Twenty years ago we discovered there were around 6,000 definitions of leadership” he says. “It’s not that one definition is right and one is wrong. We had different functional areas trying to develop leaders within their own ‘mold.’”
This, he says, created several unintended negative consequences. There was confusion over things like:
- Who do we recruit?
- Who do we recognize and promote?
- Who do we give more opportunities to?
“One thing that suffered within our company was morale,” Miller recalls. “Because leaders in different parts of the organization had their own definitions of leadership, they recognized people who carried out certain behaviors.”
There were people in other parts of the organization who carried out the same behaviors, but didn’t get recognized—simply because their leader had a different idea of leadership.
“If you’re trying to cultivate an environment in your church where you’re raising up leaders, it’s important to get everyone aligned around an agreed-upon, consistently displayed definition of what is meant when you say ‘leadership,’” says Miller.
2. Know what skills you want your leaders to develop and utilize.
Miller says every senior leader in a church or parachurch organization should ask themselves, Do your leaders have the necessary skills to deliver on your definition of leadership?
“Character isn’t enough,” he says. “Psalm 72:78 tells us David shepherded his people with integrity of heart and skillful hands.”
When someone pointed it out to him, Miller said it was a moment of clarity because there are often debates about whether leadership is about character or about skill.
The answer, he says, is both.
“Some think it’s simply about character,” says Miller. “You probably know a man or a woman of impeccable character who can’t lead. And you probably know someone with the skills to lead, but without the character you’d want to follow.”
When Chick-fil-A found themselves at a crossroads when it came to their leadership development methods, organizational leaders wrestled with what skill sets and character traits they wanted in their leaders.
Ultimately, Miller says, they came to the conclusion they wanted their leaders to emulate King David in Psalm 72: “We want to raise up a generation of leaders who have integrity of heart and skillful hands.”
3. Provide ample opportunities for existing and aspiring leaders to lead.
According to Miller, research—and conventional wisdom—has found we learn about 70 percent of what we need to know about leadership by actually leading.
“You learn about delegation when you do it,” he says. “The same applies to problem solving or brainstorming. Until you’ve applied them—practiced them—they’re not really part of your repertoire.”
Miller believes top-level leaders might be pleasantly surprised at what they’ll find if they ask themselves: Are there any unproven emerging or inspiring leaders you can throw into the deep end of the pool?
4. Have an agreed-upon way of measuring the effectiveness of your leadership development methods.
“Here’s what we believe to be true,” says Miller. “Nothing improves without measuring.”
He says church and organizational leadership teams should find a metric that indicates whether leadership development efforts are fruitful. He adds that while there are key metrics in churches and in businesses that will always stay consistent, this particular scorecard should be dynamic.
“One example of such a metric would be the percentage of your leaders who have been trained in your point of view when it comes to leadership,” explains Miller. “When you get that to 100 percent, and put it in the onboarding or core curriculum for the future, that metric no longer serves you.”
Another example of measuring success in leadership, he says, is through having church members or those who work within a parachurch organization participate in engagement surveys.
“An example of a true/false item on the survey would be, I know the vision of the organization,” Millers says. “If they don’t know that, it’s a direct reflection on leadership.”
5. Ensure current leaders are modeling desired behaviors.
“More leadership is caught than taught,” says Miller. “You can undermine everything we’ve talked about if you’re advocating servant leadership and you don’t have servant leaders in your organization.”
People watch the leader, he says, whether or not we realize it.
“If you want to create a leadership culture, you have to define it, teach it, practice it, measure it, and model it.”
JOY ALLMOND (@joyallmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.